In my last post about Fred L. Jacobs and the other men of Company E of the 126th the troops were in rough shape. They had launched 3 failed attempts on Buna Mission with catastrophic consequences. By the end of December 19, 1942, most of the men of the 32nd had suffered either combat injury or jungle sickness. The 127th came in to relieve the men of the 126th, the men of the 2/126th moved to the rear to recover.
The 127th faced the same daunting challenge of merciless crossfire in the triangle. Leadership realized that the task required a new approach. On December 20, 1942, they abandoned attempts to cross the triangle.
Battles raged across the area while the men of Company E were getting recovered. Losses were significant, but they made progress. By December 28th, 1942, the Japanese forces, cut off from the attack on the new approach, could not hold the triangle. The Japanese forces abandoned their 14 bunkers before the Allied forces could take the area.
December 29, 1942
Urbana force was now in the position to take Buna Mission. On December 29, 1942 they moved the men of 2/126th back into the line. They moved into the area of Government Gardens to join the push on Buna Mission. The final attack on Buna Mission would jump off on the morning of December 31, 1942.
While heavy fighting raged around Buna Mission, the men of the 2/126th including Company E, made gains that day. They cleared the Government Gardens of enemy forces and gained about 300 yards of territory. On the Japanese side, the forces were becoming desperate in the face of Allied advances.
January 1, 1943
The fall of Buna Mission was imminent as Allied forces approached from all directions. The Japanese started attempting to escape the advancing forces. On January 1, 1943, Japanese troops were spotting trying to swim away from Buna Mission. Leaders of the Japanese troops, Colonel Yamamoto and Captain Yasuda, met at a central point and killed themselves in the traditional Japanese manner of slitting their own bellies.
The remaining Japanese forces dug in at Buna Mission continued a fight to the death. By 1700, the battle for the mission was over. After six weeks of fighting, the battle for the Buna region was officially complete.
January 9, 1943
Elements of the 126th would see further fighting in the jungles of New Guinea. On January 9, 1943, the last of the 126th received relief. The toll had been heavy. When the 126th marched into the battle of Buna they had numbered 1400 fighting men. On January 9th, they were down to 165. Those 165 were in bad shape.
The Heavy Toll
The 126th evacuated for Port Moresby on January 22, 1943. The report on troop strength on January 20, 1943 showed Company E with 1 officer and 16 enlisted men in fighting shape.
The Papuan Campaign was one of the costliest in terms of human life lost of the entire Pacific region. The men of the 126th were off for a heavy dose of rest and recuperation in Australia.
Fred L. Jacobs was awarded 3 purple hearts during his service in World War II. I don’t know the details of how he was injured but looking at the casualties experienced by Company E I suspect one of his purple hearts were earned around Buna.
Follow my blog to continue the journey of Company E. 126th Infantry Regiment, 32d Division through the South Pacific of World War II.
On December 9, 1942, Company E of the 126th was a beat up force. The losses they had taken during the repeated attempts to take Buna village were significant. Relief forces arrived and Company E moved to the rear. Buna village fell to U.S. forces on December 14, 1942.
December 16, 1942
With the fall of Buna village, the tide appeared to be turning in favor of the Allied forces. Battles continued to rage as the fortified Japanese forces remained determined to keep a stranglehold on parts of the island. Company E would not remain long in the rear. On December 16, 1942, the 2/126th received orders sending it back into battle.
Buna mission remained an enemy stronghold. The 2/126th would be part of the push to take the mission. Battle plans sent the men of the 2/126th to the Coconut Grove above and below the triangle. The aim was to take the triangle. Japanese forces were dug in at Buna mission the area was a natural fortress. Few approaches were workable and well-placed enemy positions protected those.
December 18, 1942
The plan was for 2 companies of the 126th to attack across the bridge from the Coconut Grove. Air support would pound the enemy but because of the contained area once the ground troops began moving they would be on their own. 100 men from Companies E and G, with a supporting weapons crew from Company H would lead the attack.
The troops crossed the bridge at Entrance Creek and moved into the bridgehead area at the mouth of the triangle at 2200.
December 19, 1942
0650 the Japanese forces saw the daybreak to a barrage of mortars, artillery, and bombs coming from the air. A final barrage of mortars rained down on the enemy at 0730.
0745 The men of Company E and G began to approach straight south. Enemy crossfire stopped the approach within yards. Hours passed as the men remained pinned down and losses mounted. They made a second push at 1415, again they were cut down by crossfire. The men tried a third futile attempt at 1600.
By nightfall, 40 of the 107 men who started the attack had been killed or wounded. The 127th was brought in to relieve the battered forces.
The jungles of Papua have taken a heavy toll on the men of the 32nd Division as of mid December 1942. An enemy that was supposed to be a pushover just keeps proving their fierce determination and resolve. The men of Company E, 126th regiment were still not done in the jungles of the Buna region.
December 5, 1942 saw the first gains of the 32nd Division forces on Buna village. A platoon of 18 men and a machine gun had managed to push past the line to dig in on the beach between Buna village and Buna mission. Japanese reinforcements could no longer reach the village. The U.S. forces were finally in an advantageous position. Buna Village looked sure to fall.
The toll for the day was high and the progress came with a
high cost. Among those injured during the fighting was General Waldron. He was
shot in the shoulder while commanding troops near the front. General Byers
replaced General Waldron as commander of the 32nd Division.
It was 1800 that evening when General Eichelberger and the rest of his group of officers left the command point for the rear. The troops had still not taken Buna but General Eichelberger had seen enough to change his opinion about the lack of fighting spirit in the men of the 32nd. On December 6, 1942 Eichelberger noted that the troops had fought hard and had high morale.
December 6, 1942
December 6, 1942 the troops reorganized after the fighting of the previous day. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner were still holding off the Japanese forces trying to reinforce the forces in Buna village. Leadership drew up plans for an attack on the village on the following day.
The attack was led by 2nd Battalion, 126th
Infantry. Companies E and G would attack on the right and left. Company H would
offer support fire. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner would hold their position
and Company F were set to be reinforcements.
The plan was for the attack on the village to begin in the early afternoon. The Japanese had other ideas. They attacked the men at Bottcher’s Corner at 0600 from both the village and the mission. Reinforced with a fresh platoon from H company, one of the men at Bottcher’s Corner noticed the enemy attack as it was approaching under the cover of the jungle. Cpl. Harold L. Mitchell of Company H. was a forward observer when he saw the Japanese creeping toward Bottcher’s forces. As the enemy was about to attack, in an act of foolish bravery that saved the day, Cpl. Mitchell charged the Japanese with a yell and a bayonet. The Japanese forces were bewildered by his actions and they hesitated their attack and fell back. With his actions Cpl. Mitchell alerted the rest of the forces of the impending attack which allowed the U.S. forces to cut down the enemy approach. Cpl. Mitchell escaped his one-man charge without a scratch.
Companies E and G began their attack at 1335. The approach
followed a barrage of artillery and mortars. Once again, they met a heavy
determined and fortified enemy. Headway was hard to find.
An hour later things were at a stalemate. Company F came up
to support Company E and G. The line still did not manage to make significant
December 8, 1942
December 8, 1942 the U.S. forces attacked again. The troops
began moving forward at 1415. Once again, they hit the enemy with a barrage of
mortars, artillery, and machine gun fire. Once again, the enemy stood against
The Japanese had fortified bunker systems. Taking the enemy
forces often came a high human cost. One by one the Japanese strongholds fell
as men whose names history has forgotten exhibited feats of insane bravery. Japanese
leaders made one last attempt to break the U.S. approach on Buna Village that
evening. An enemy force of less than 150 men attacked from both Buna village
and Buna mission. The attack failed. The tide of the battle had turned in the
favor of the allied forces.
Repulsed a Dozen Times
By December 9, 1942, the 2nd Battalion, 126th
Infantry had attacked Buna village a dozen times without taking the objective. Company
E had heavy losses, it had less than 50 effectives left. The entire battalion was
only 250 men. They were so understrength that it was becoming a challenge to hold
the ground they had gained. Relief arrived by way of the 3rd
Battalion, 127th Infantry. Company E was relieved and moved to the
The battle for Buna village would only continue for a few
more days. After the heavy fighting and extreme losses of the 2/126th
the village was in U.S. hands on December 14th, 1942.
Tides finally seem to be turning in favor of allied forces with the fall of Buna village. Much work remained. The 2/126th moved to the rear to catch their breath but it would be a short reprieve. Follow my blog to trace the steps of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32nd Division through the battles of the South Pacific during World War II.
In the last blog post, the men of Company E, 126th Regiment were outside the village of Buna. They had thrown attack after attack at the entrenched enemy, but each time the Japanese forces repelled the U.S. forces.
An impatient MacArthur changed command of all the forces. Gone was General Harding. General Eichelberger oversaw the operations in the region, and General Waldron was leading the 32nd.
General Eichelberger toured the front lines on December 2nd and returned a scathing report. His review of the men was less than flattering. On December 3rd, the troops got a hot meal, their first real meal in weeks. The General reorganized the troops. He issued orders for a renewed attack for the 4th.
Leadership pushed the attack for the 4th back to give the troops and leaders more time to get prepared.
December 5, 1942
December 5, 1942 found the Japanese forces just as dug in and determined as ever. Battle started at 0830 on the Warren front. A 1000 attack followed on the Urbana front. The allied forces threw everything they had at the Japanese to end the stalemate.
On the Urbana front, the men had a little rest and food. They were ready to finish the job they had started on December 2. The plan of attack had the 2/126th attacking the perimeter of Buna Village.
Generals Eichelberger and Waldron were both at the command point on the morning of December 5th as the attack got started.
The renewed attack on Buna Village started with nine B-25’s raining bombs down on the enemy position. Artillery and mortars followed the B-25’s. At 1030 the infantry forces started to move in.
The Japanese had several hundred men in the area. Their forces were dug into elaborate bunkers and barricades. They would be a formidable opponent.
With each attempt to approach the village, the U.S. forces met with fierce resistance. Company E. under Captain Shultz battled an entrenched enemy. They pushed forward through heavy enemy fire until they reached an enemy line 50 yards from Buna Village where they had to dig in.
Company E would take heavy losses that day. 1st Sgt. Lutgens who kept a journal of the trek across the Stanley Owens received severe injuries along with 1st Lt. Thomas Knode. One man who lost his life that day was Sgt. Harold Graber who jumped up and fired his weapon into the enemy strongpoint holding up the advance.
General Eichelberger, unhappy with the progress of the attack, took control of the operations himself. He ordered Company F, which was in reserve because of heavy losses from the previous battle to pass through Company E’s line and take the village. Other leaders questioned the order, but they followed it.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for any of the men at the Battle of Buna as it raged into its second month. General MacArthur still had pie on his face after being run out of the Philippines by the Japanese. Ego and pride seem to be massive motivators in many of his decisions. He forced poor choices and hasty actions that added hardship to the hell of war.
It is only safe to assume that the mission statement that General Eichelberger left Port Moresby with was a factor in his decisions in December 1942 when he ordered Company F to push past Company E and take Buna Village. He had a do or die mission.
1st LT Odell had recently taken leadership of Company F. He described the results of the mission in his own words.
“The Lieutenant General explained what he wanted, and after a brief delay, I brought up the company and deployed accordingly. Pravda [1st Sgt. George Pravda] was to take half the company up one side of the trail, and I the other half on the other side. We were given ten minutes to make our reconnaissance and to gather information from the most forward troops which we were to pass. It was intended that we finish the job–actually take the Village–and [it was thought] that we needed little more than our bayonets to do it. Well, off we went, and within a few minutes our rush forward had been definitely and completely halted. Of the 40 men who started with me, 4 had been (known) killed, and 18 were lying wounded. We were within a few yards of the village, but with . . . no chance of going a step further. . . . [Pravda] was among the wounded, and casualties were about as heavy on his side”
1st LT Robert H. Odell
Company E had failed to breach the enemy line. The Japanese repulsed company F. One unit, a platoon of Company H, gained ground by pushing to the north. Under SSGT. Herman Bottcher the unit knocked out several enemy positions, crossed the creek, and dug in on the beach.
The unit, 18 men and 1 machine gun, fought off enemy attacks from both Buna Village and Buna Mission. Bodies piled up on the beach with neither side able to retrieve the dead. With Bottcher and his men holding the beach, it cut the village off from reinforcement. Buna was still in enemy hands but for the first time in days, there was progress.
Follow my blog as I continue to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs and the unit he served with during WWII
It has been a few weeks since the start of my blog on Fred Jacobs and his experiences during WWII. My goal when I began was to see what details I could dig up, and I expected to finish before Veteran’s Day. It didn’t work out that way. I didn’t expect the wealth of information I would turn up on the day-to-day movements of Fred’s company through the war. Nor did I expect the vivid details. Silly I suppose but it is what it is. With that being said I will work to continue the story of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of the Red Arrow Division through World War II despite the passing of my original self-imposed deadline and the growing length of the series.
On the outskirts of Buna
November 30, 1942 found the men of Co. E a few hundred yards from Buna Village. The Japanese had a heavily fortified force in the area. Back in Port Moresby, General MacArthur sacked General Harding. Leadership of the 32nd Infantry Division passed to General Waldron from General Harding.
Away from the politics of Generals, the men of the 32nd Infantry Division faced more immediate issues. Bad intel had underestimated the enemy forces. The night of November 30th into December 1st was a restless night. The troops expected a counterattack, but it never came.
On the morning of December 1, the troops tried to take Buna a second time. Colonel Mott sent troops up to reinforce the men of Co. E, 126th for the attack. They knocked Japanese bunkers out with mortar fire from Company H, and the rest of the forces could advance. The troops were on the verge of taking the village when battle field confusion led to a halt in the advance. Another restless night peppered with machine gunfire and very little rest passed for the men.
December 2, the men again made a push on Buna. Once again, the enemy withstood the assault. The men of Company E were showing signs of extreme battle fatigue. Fever ran rampant in the units. They suffered from a lack of rations and other supplies.
On the evening of December 2, after Company E attacked without success for a fifth time, Colonel Mott made a note in his diary about the state of things on the front line outside of Buna.
“The troops that we have left are weak and tired and need rest and reinforcement.”
Colonel Mott December 2, 1942
As part of a bigger shaking up in leadership, they removed Colonel Mott from his position on December 4. Leadership of the forces Urbana forces passed to Col. John E. Grouse.
“Scrambled like eggs”.
General Eichelberger describing troops on the front on December 2
Conditions on the front dismayed General Eichelberger when he toured the front lines on December 2. He ordered the men regrouped and reorganized. They fed the men who had been surviving on starvation rations their first full meal in a week on December 3. Battle plans for an attack the next day were underway.
Follow my blog to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs through the hell of World War II with the Red Arrow Division.
On November 23, 1942 the men of company E were engaged by the enemy in combat for the first time. Japanese forces opened fire on the men. The men were forced to dig into foxholes.
While the men of Company E, 126th were patrolling and engaging with enemy forces west of the bridge over Entrance creek bigger plans were underway for the full assault on Japanese forces at Buna. The battle was scheduled for November 30, 1942.
The forces set to take Buna had been divided into two forces, Warren and Urbana. They were set to approach the enemy within hours of each other.
The men of Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, were ordered to attack in a northeasterly direction. They would occupy the main strip and secure the small coconut plantation north of the Entrance Creek bridge as they moved through the area.
Things did not go as planned from early on. There were delays. Enemy fire, rising tides in the swamp, and overall confusion were issues that plagued the mission.
“As soon as it was dark, preparations began. When these were completed, we each grasped the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly shuffled forward in the pitch black of the night. Our only guide was the telephone wire leading to the jump-off point, and the troops in the foxholes along the way who had been holding the ground recently captured. There was no trail and consequently several hours were required to travel as many hundreds of yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was forbidden until after the attack was well under way. Japs encountered along the way were to be dealt with silently.”
Robert H. Odell, Lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 126th of that night.
At 0400 the attack began. Companies E, F, and G, 126th made contact with the enemy. Darkness still blanketed the men as they reached a line of Japanese machine guns posts.
As the battle raged the allied forces gained the momentum. Companies E and F, 126th overran the enemy outpost and gained the ground at the eastern end of the main strip. Once again the men encountered enemy forces which they dispatched.
Colonel Mott tasked Company E, 126th infantry with the task of taking the village. The men moved on Buna Village via the main track. It was 0600 when they attacked the village. 300 yards from the village they discovered an enemy force dug into heavily manned bunker lines. The men of Company E were stopped in their tracks by enemy crossfire.
Behind the front lines of Buna, MacArthur was growing inpatient with the time it was taking to take over the island. The powers that be wanted results and quick. Instead, the men on the front lines were tired and sick. They were ill equipped and poorly trained for the mission they found themselves on. MacArthur ignored the logistical hell of the situation on the ground and instead axed General Harding in hopes that new leadership could take the island.
It was a savage journey over the Owen Stanley Mountains for the men of the 2/126th. They finished their march and filed into the Natunga area on November 2, 1942. The arduous ordeal they experienced had taken its toll on the unit. The men wore ripped uniforms, most of them had missing underwear and socks. Their shoes were falling from their feet. Men, bearded and muddy, emerged after 42 days in the mountains. They were hungry, sick, and exhausted. They would get a few scant days to recover.
Suck it up and soldier on
The men of company E. spent a week getting resupplied and fed in the Natunga region. The battle of Buna Gona was set to begin. Allied forces had orders to take the beach region of the island from the Japanese forces. Despite the hard journey across the mountains, spirits remained high. The troops remained cocky. Notes of the time show a fighting force eager to get their feet wet.
Allied forces remained convinced that Buna would be a pushover. Leaders speculated that the Japanese had withdrawn many of their troops. Natives who surveyed the area and made reports back to allied forces suggested there were few enemy forces in the region. The allies expected little resistance as they made the final push to the beach.
General Harding continued to underestimate the strength of the enemy forces. Allied forces didn’t suspect the strength of Japanese fortifications. As October progressed, Harding expressed confidence in a quick victory. The allied forces continued to suspect that the Japanese had withdrawn most of their forces. These were serious miscalculations. The Japanese were dug in and they had not withdrawn their forces.
When the war plans were drawn up the allied forces began to make the final push toward the Buna-Gona beachhead. The Americans were on the right and the Australians on the left. The Girua River divided the two forces. The forces began to move on November 16, 1942. The 126th would be on the east side of the river moving from Bofu toward Buna Village by way of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura.
Unexpected Orders From the Rear
As the troops advanced the decision was made in Fort Moresby to transfer the 126th from the command of the 32nd infantry division to the Australian General Vasey. On the ground leadership questioned the decision. None the less, orders were followed. On November 19th Colonel Tomlinson of the 126th was ordered to report to the 7th Division.
November 21, 1942 Colonel Tomlinson worked to work up the plan of attack for the 126th. Fred, and the rest of 2nd battalion would remain in reserve at Soputa to be called when needed. The 2nd battalion’s recovery period would be short. On Novmeber 22 orders came in for the 2/126th to report back to the 32nd. The 2/128th had run into trouble and needed back up. It was back across the now flooded Girua River for the men of the 2nd battalion. November 23 at 9:30 am the regiment regained Harding’s forces.
Under Enemy Fire
On November 23, 1942 Company E, 126th infantry regiment began its mission by swinging wide near Entrance Creek. It moved 400 yards, then turned northeast. The company moved another 400 yards and was approaching a crossing to the creek when heavy enemy machine gunfire erupted. The men dug in. Their foxholes filled with water. They dug in and waited for further orders.
Company E of the 2/126th, 32nd Infantry Divison shipped around the world and slogged through one of the most miserable military marches in history. Enemy fire drove the men into water filled fox holes as the battle of Buna Gona started to get underway. Follow my series on Fred’s experience in World War II to continue his journey through the Pacific southwest.
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Every Tuesday I try to provide a research tip. These are tips that I use daily in my own research to help me be the best genealogical researcher I can be.
This week my tip is in regards to records and fuzzy facts. My genealogy research right now is centered around a man who served in World War II, Fredrick L. Jacobs. I am trying to discover details of his service and the story behind his three purple hearts.
Fred’s records were lost in the St. Louise, Missouri records fire of 1973 which destroyed most of the Army’s personnel records. A request to the National Archives turned up only a sad form letter. I set out to see what I could discover about this interesting research subject.
One of the first details I noticed about my vitals on Fred Jacobs was that his year of birth varied from year to year on his source documents. In this instance I was more curious about the actual year than some…Fred was either 18 when he enlisted for World War II…or he lied to say he was 18 when he was in fact only 17. Sneaky, sneaky!
Primary Vs. Secondary Sources
I used the various source documents I had to determine if Fred was in fact born in 1921 or 1922. Fred’s birth record, a primary source, has been elusive so I have had to use the various documents I do have and weigh the evidence presented with secondary sources.
A source document is considered strongest if it happened at or near the time the event occurred. Birth records are considered the primary source for a person’s birth information. Without a birth record I needed to look at the records I did have located.
Weigh Secondary Sources
The first record I have for Fred is the 1930 census. His age correlates with the younger date of birth. The 1940 census too agrees with the age of the previous census. In 1940, just a few months after the 1940 census, Fred suddenly aged one year on his enlistment papers. After his service ended Fred’s year of birth once again reverted to 1922. His headstone reads the year 1922.
Based on these various source documents it seems certain that Fred lied about his age to enlist in the Army for World War II. My research tip of the day is to compare your source documents to understand why there may be distorted facts from one document to another.
Find more on Fred L. Jacobs on my blog about his service during World War II.
On September 28, 1942 Fred would have been with the rest of the men of Co. E at Bootless Bay where they bivouacked. The rest of the 32nd Infantry Division would arrive at Port Moresby by air on September 29, 1942.
During this time a battle plan was being developed for an attack on the enemy. General MacArthur and Australian, General Sir Thomas Blamey, hatched a plan which would see the Australian forces drive the Japanes forces down the Kokoda Trail. The combat leaders wanted to send the entire 32nd Division to march over the mountains to flank the enemy in the area of Buna. Less hasty minds understood the journey would have a negative effect on troop readiness. Eventually MacArthur and Blamey decided on splitting the force. Only one battalion would march across the mountains. The rest would be transported.
When the final plans were drawn it would be the men of the 2nd battlion of the 126th regiment that were ordered to slog across the Owen Stanley Mountains on the Kapa Kapa Trail . Fred’s unit was included in those who would march. Straight-line distance, from Port Moresby to Buna is 120 miles.
Kapa Kapa Trail
By all accounts, the Kapa Kapa trail was more mountain goat path than feasible option for troops to travel. The men of the 2/126th would blaze their own trail. The troops would deal with unrelenting rain. They would cut their way through jungle brush. Often, the mud on the trail was so thick the men sank to their knees.
October 7, 1942 a detachment from Co. E was sent on an advance guard team for the leg of the trip from Nepeana to Jaure. The remainder of 2nd Battalion would follow on October 14, 1942. Company E would once again be leading the way.
The march across the Owen Stanley Mountains was brutal. Fred Jacobs would spend 42 days in a nightmare world as he and the rest of the 2nd Battalion cut a trail through some of the world’s most dense jungle. They suffered their first casualty on the march within days when commander Lt. Col. Henry Geerd died of a heart attack. Major Herbert Smith assumed leadership from the fallen leader. The men marched on.
Lieutenant Paul R. Lutjens of Big Rapids, Michigan was a platoon leader in Company E. Undoubtedly Lutjens experiences are very close to what Fred would have experienced. The men may have been in the same platoon. Lutjens recollections are as follows:
Company E was a day or so ahead of the rest of the battalion and Lutjens, for most of the way, was out in front of Company E. His detachment moved in single file along the muddy jungle trails, each man three or four yards from the next one. It didn’t take them long to decide that there were items in their full-field equipment they could do without. They cut their blankets in half. They dumped their mosquito nettings at the side of the trail. Though it rained unrelentingly every afternoon and night, they discarded their rain coats. Each man kept one uniform – the one he had on. They abandoned their shaving equipment and other toilet articles, keeping only their tooth brushes – with which they tried to keep their rifles clean.
“What difference did it make, washing your teeth, if you could clean your rifle?”
after day the Battalion plodded through some of the worst and wildest jungle in
the world. They went through waist deep
streams and along trails that were waist deep channels of mud. Half the time they could not see the sky
– only matted leaves and vines. It would take five or six hours to go a
mile, edging along cliff walls, hanging on to vines, up and down, up and down.
Men got weaker and began to lag back. It
would rain from three o’clock in the afternoon on, soaking everything. The rivers they crossed were so swift that if
you slipped, it was just too bad. There
wasn’t any way of evacuating to the rear.
Everyone was driven on by the fear of being left behind.
“Their bones ached and dysentery had hit almost every man. They were filthy and caked with mud, and washed themselves only when they happened to be crossing a river. They climbed to 8,000 feet, to the top of the gap through which they stumbled over the Owen Stanleys. It took them seven hours to crawl the last 2,000 feet. They couldn’t march for more than 15 minutes without lying down and resting. They crossed at a place called Ghost Mountain [Mount Suwemalla] to which Lutjens devoted a few lines in his diary.
““It was the eeriest place I ever saw. The trees were covered with moss a half a foot thick. We would walk along a hogback, straddling the trail, with a sheer drop of thousands of feet two feet on either side of us. We kept hearing water running somewhere, but we couldn’t find any. We could thrust a stick six feet down in the spongy stuff we were walking on without hitting anything real solid. It was ungodly cold. There wasn’t a sign of life. Not a bird. Not a fly. Not a sound. It was the strangest feeling I ever had. If we stopped, we froze. If we moved, we sweated.”
– Lt Lutjens
“The men were
gaunt and down to a shadow – eyes sunk deep in their heads. On the highest point in the trail there
stands a simple monument to mark the grave of a doughboy who died on the road
to Buna. His epitaph, such as it was,
was carved into the soggy pages of Lutjens’ notebook:
““Today we lost PFC.—–, who died at 2:00 p.m. Dysentery and fever . . . a damn good man. The trip was a little too much for him.”
The harrowing march across the Owen Stanley Mountains was trying not just for the men on the ground. Their march was deadly from the air too. The men had to be resupplied by air drops during the journey. On November 5, 1942 the C-47 Broadway Limited crashed into the Owen Stanley Mountains near Natunga. All the men on board were killed. The men of the 126th were able to locate the crash site and recover the remains of all those killed later on the same day.
The 2/126th would emerge from their mountain trek on November 20, 1942. The men staggered into Soputa battered and bruised for their troubles. To a man they suffered from jungle rot, malaria, dengue fever, and near starvation. They were worse for the wear. They would get a few days to catch their breath before being sent into battle. The battle of Buna Gona was raging and bodies were needed at the front.
Follow me for the next installment in my series on Fred Jacobs and his service during World War II.
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Fred Jacobs spent his 18th birthday in Louisiana. Camp Beauregard was a case of embrace the suck. The troops grew to refer to the place as Camp Dis-regard. The camp was equipped to handle a single regiment. The entire 32nd Division was sent there anyway. The troops set about training for whatever the future would bring.
On August 12, 1941 congress passed legislation extending the federalized service of the National Guard units from 12 months to 18 months. At the same time congress approved the use of National Guard units outside of the Western Hemisphere. The 32nd Infantry Division was destined for overseas service.
During August and September of 1941 the state of Louisiana became the mock combat zone for massive war games meant to prepare the troops for war. The exercises included over half a million troops and covered nearly 16 million acres of territory.
“in a series of the most grandiose field exercises and full maneuvers ever staged any time, anywhere, before or since, by American troops”
then Col. Jim Dan Hill, CO of the 120TH Field Artillery Regiment regarding the Louisiana Maneuvers
December 7, 1941
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor altered the United States’ approach to the war rampaging across the world. The sleeping giant was awake. The United States officially joined World War II on December 11, 1941. Fred turned 19 the next day.
April 10, 1942 troops of the 32nd Infantry Division boarded trains for San Francisco. The last train carrying troops arrived in San Francisco on April 14, 1942. The troops were loaded up on ships in San Francisco. They set sail for Australia on April 22, 1942.
Fred had been in the military less than 2 years. He was 19 years old. Fred and his fellow soldiers of Company E set sail from San Francisco for Australia on the converted luxury ship USAT Lurline. The entire 32nd Infantry Division sailed from San Francisco. 10 ships were required for the trip. The convoy marks the first time in history an entire division was sent overseas in one convoy. On May 14, 1942 the division arrived in Adelaide, Australia.
Photograph of the SS Lurline in the 1930’s. Fred rode the Lurline to Australia.
Interesting Fact: For the men of the 32nd Infantry Division the day of May 7, 1942 never existed. Their convoy crossed the International Day Line on May 6, 1942. On the other side of the line the date was May 8, 1942.
The Japanese forces dominated the Pacific in the fall of 1942. There was concern some concern that the Japanese might set sights on invading Australia. The Japanese were running amok in the south Pacific. The United States forces were tasked with the job of harassing the enemy. The 32nd was ordered to help put the Japanese on the defensive.
“I shall return.”
General Douglas MacArthur’s promise to the Philippines in March 1942.
General MacArthur was still blistering from the Japanese victory on the Philippines in March of 1942. He and his family had been forced to flee the island by boat. The famed general had a standing promise to return. It was the 32nd Infantry Divisions job to help make that promise a reality.
General MacArthur ordered the Red Arrow Infantry Division to New Guinea on September 13, 1942. The initial deployment to New Guinea included Fred’s 126th regiment. On September 15, Fred and the rest of the men of Company E, were the first unit to take off from Amberly Field in Brisbane, Australia. It was a 1000 mile flight to Port Moresby.
The Three Spearheads
Once can only imagine the mood on that flight. Excitement? Fear? A strange combination of both? The men were woefully unprepared for the struggle they were about to face. They had trained for service in Europe, and even that training had been disrupted as the division moved from place to place.
“In the rush of getting ready on short notice, there was not time to get the fatigue uniforms which had been sprayed with green camouflage dye thoroughly dried, and they were dried out on the men’s backs as they flew north”
The men of Company E must have had some sense of pride as they headed into New Guinea. General Harding had addressed the men before they left on their mission. He explained to them that as the leading element of the 126th, which was in turn the leading unit of the Division they were “the spearhead of the spearhead of the spearhead”. From that point on Company E proudly began to call itself the Three Sprearheads.
The rest of the 32nd Infantry Division would arrive in Port Moresby on September 29, 1942.
The men of the Red Arrow Division were about to get battle tested. Stay tuned for the next installment in my series on Fred Jacobs during the South Pacific of World War II.